I understand the use of circa / c. as it applies to approximating dates. However, I have a writer who (over)uses the word in other contexts.


... from circa early 1990s up until circa 8 years ago ...

... said population is circa 92-94% ...

... making one stop circa Pacific Coast Highway ..,

... cost of circa $300,000 ...

... Rarely was I at either bar past circa 10:00PM ...

... circa 5 car widths from ...

Is this just my hatred of obfuscated language that's annoying me when I read this, or is it always appropriate to use "circa" when you mean "approximately?"

  • @Thursagen - I used the correct word for what I meant, for two reasons: 1.) Obfuscated implies that something is made intentionally confusing. Simply saying something is "confusing" does not imply whether it was intentional or not. 2.) It was also partially for the ironic satisfaction of using an uncommon word in a post about my hatred of people who use unnecessarily obtuse language when simpler language will suffice. - "Eschew obfuscation, espouse elucidation."
    – Dennis
    Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 0:09
  • Is this a native speaker? Because if not, it may be unintentionally poor language. In my mother tongue, for instance, "circa" is part of everyday language, and corresponds to "roughly" or "about". Using it for "nearby" would also work. You could indeed say "I'll find someplace circa at the squares" when you mean "nearby the squares". In English it sounds like poor language to me.
    – sigvaldm
    Commented Mar 17, 2019 at 11:13

3 Answers 3


I wouldn't say it's always appropriate. Typically you only see it for dates (for example, "she was born circa 1920"). The Wiktionary article on 'circa' implies (but doesn't explicitly state) in the usage notes that it's used for dates and measures, so your examples of “circa Pacific Coast Highway” or “circa $300,000” appear to be incorrect.

And it definitely is pointless for your “circa 92–94%” example. Giving a range of numbers is already implying that you don't know the exact number, which means the “circa” is superfluous.

If you want my honest opinion, it’s one of those words used by people that want to sound smarter than they are. “Approximately” or “roughly” or “about” would serve just as well and not sound so stilted and stuffy.

  • 1
    "circa early 1990's" is pretty redundant too. "circa 1991" would be reasonable, although it might not be what was meant, since I'd be inclined to interpret that as "late 1990 to early 1992". "In the early 1990s" would probably be best. Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 13:04
  • 2
    There is a difference between "92-94" vs "ca 92-94". The first one says that the number is within 92-94, whereas the second one says that the number may be outside of 92-94, but close, e.g. 91.7.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Jul 8, 2014 at 8:55

Wiktionary states:


approximately, about

Julius Caesar visited this area circa 50 BC

Usage notes:
Used only before a date or measure, never after

Note, two things, it's only used before a date or a measure. This means that if you were to use for location, it would be improper. E.g. Circa the Pacific Highway would be incorrect.

Because "circa" is used to mean approximately in dates and measures, people would naturally use it to mean approximately even outside of dates and measures, partly due to ignorance of the fact that "circa" is used only for dates and measures, and partly out of inconsideration of the rules of usage.

or is it always appropriate to use "circa" when you mean "approximately?"

No, it depends on what you are using "circa" to modify with.

  • I have a colleague who user it to explain when he'll be performing maintenance tasks, and I don't know if its usage it correct or not. It does sit well with me, but can't be sure if he's using it correctly... "I'll be performing maintenance tonight circa 19:00"
    – Karl
    Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 10:29

It has always been my understanding that circa is properly used only when exact dates are unknown or disputed. (I will concede to my betters about the use of circa with measures. Presumably, the same rule about intentional vagueness applies.)

Using circa with an exact, verified set of dates is wrong. Recently, I edited a client’s work to correct “the poet John Keats lived c. 1795–1821”.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.